“My brother’s race is Excellence.” This statement resonated with me during the panelist discussion that preceded the performance “Evoke” at the East West Players theatre in Los Angeles. Touching upon topics of artist opportunity for South Asian Americans, Parimal Rohit facilitated an artist discussion that made me more aware of the conditions in the media industry that affect South Asian artists today. The artists’ feedback was very informational and encouraging, opening my mind to the personal experiences of their journeys. The opening quote caught my attention because it confronts the thought that people should have the equal opportunity to be regarded with respect because of the integrity of their work, and not the color of their skin. The artist who quoted this statement was referring to her brother who was the first South Asian brigadier general for the United States. She makes a bold statement that her “brother’s race is excellence” because she is making a point that he is not being regarded for the color of his skin, but for the excellent work he has accomplished to get to the position he is in.
Opening the discussion was a question on what ideal arts project the artist wish for in their future. The most frequent response was to use media as a platform to reach the widest audience within the United States as well as overseas. One artist, Kavi, talked about “bringing something more, not something different.” I agreed with her opinion because I think it is part of the integrity of the work to be true to what is real about what an artist can offer, and to build upon the work that they already have without trying to please the system and trying to be different. Being different does not always mean that you will stand out and get ahead. Sometimes your work can be fresh if you allow it to evolve from the original foundation that it was created. Good work comes from staying grounded in that foundation and working hard at it everyday. I think that if an artist can dedicate to their work in this way, they will make decisions that will keep their true self in their work.
Parimal then asked another question: “What exists out there that is working for artists?” The artists agreed that there are more opportunities for South Asian Americans in the media industry, although they also say that there still is not enough. More Asian American artists are auditioning for roles that aren’t initially written in as “Asian” or “Indian”, which means that Asian American actors have more of an opportunity to put themselves into the role. However some networks and TV shows have not evolved in a way that gives opportunities for Asian American content. One of the artists used the hit show “Saturday Night Live” as an example of a media source that still has not brought a level of diversity that includes minorities.
The artists also discussed how creating through collaboration and community gatherings has been a strong source of inspiration and creativity. The exchange of ideas and communication through dance, food and art has allowed artists to thrive. I believe that this is truly what keeps art a growing entity. By getting to know other artists who are on the same path as you, there is a bond and fellowship that is created. These alliances are what make a strong impact on community life and encourage new artists to keep cultivating their talents. The artists on panel then began to talk about the need for strong mentorship programs and the ethic of giving back to the community. I felt very strongly about this too because learning from experienced artists is a genuine way of developing one’s craft. Artists can begin to volunteer their time to mentor aspiring artists.
The artists also stressed that Asian Americans should not have to feel like they need permission to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. We have agency in our work, and our career should reflect that agency. This made me think of The Collective, and the dialogues confronting the issue of Asian American art and whether it always needs to show victimhood in order for it to be acceptable. Does Asian American art always have to include themes that stem around race and diaspora? If not, will their work still be regarded in the same way as white artists?
The area that is lacking support in the South Asian American artist community is funding and sponsorship. The artists agree that funding needs to be more of a priority so that they can get the work to reach a wider audience. I am reflecting on how this can be achieved. We can do small things such as invite our family and friends to support Asian American art festivals and continue to stay true to our craft without letting race become a distraction. We must continue to challenge the stereotypes.
Watching “Evoke” was a cultural eye-opener. I wanted to experience it and appreciate it for simply what it offered. The content of each of the six pieces had cultural references that I was familiar and unfamiliar with. I appreciated that each artist offered a different medium of art. The performances included multimedia, spoken word, dance, music, acting, and audience interaction. They included themes that revolved around stereotypes, religion, sexual identity, history, and oppression. These were all topics we discussed in class, so I was glad that I was able to make connections and identity these themes when they were brought up. I hope to continue to expose myself to these festivals and performances because I feel that my awareness of these issues can encourage my work as a dancer- to give back to the community as well as make a difference for the Asian American community.